Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joy in a chalk outline

I’m pretty laid back when I travel. I like to leave space for things to happen. I never have an itinerary, mostly because I can’t bear the idea of being obliged to leave a place before I’m ready or worse yet to stay longer than I want. I like to experience space actively, as it was meant to be. I love to see how something that is a fundamental part of my existence, like reading, writing, making lists, running, skiing, hiking, etc., feels in a foreign place. When I am doing something that is so fundamental to me, I can more fully understand the energy a foreign place brings a moment. I feel the sense of being alive more acutely in these moments. The real beauty of travel for me is the joy that comes from feeling how I fit into a new place and what that shows me about myself. I take that back. The real beauty of travel is experiencing inspiring places, people, customs, and food, but I digress. These experiences cannot be scheduled so I try to leave plenty of time for them occur organically. Because of this, I don’t sightsee as much as I used to. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of really amazing places and crossed a lot of sights off my list. Now, I have different goals.

Through this lens, the trip has been a big success. I know a lot of people will think I’m crazy for not going to Venice or Capri or Provence, but I couldn’t be happier. The last few years have left me a shell of my former self. It’s not just the divorce, lay off, or loss of friends and a home. My marriage was slowly sucking me dry of all optimism. It is so incredibly painful to love someone who doesn’t love you. As my ex began to withhold his love, I tried to become something he wanted, losing all semblance of myself. During my time in Italy and France, I was able to find a bit of me. I’m still not a full person, more like a chalk outline from a murder scene, but I’m closer to me than I have been in a decade. This is progress. This is hope. This is the beginning of joy. I just hope I can keep it up.

Places you must go 1) Grand Canyon, 2) Taj Mahal, 3) Golden Pavillion, 4) Rodin Museum, 5) Pyramids of Giza, 6) Jackson Hole and the Tetons, 7) Augill Castle, Lake District, England, 8) Tuscan Vineyard, 9) Spanish Villa, 10) Hagia Sophia, 11) Wailing Wall, 12) Stonehenge, 13) St. Basil’s Cathedral, 14) Florentine Café, 15)Taroko Gorge, 16) Quechee Hot Air Ballon Festival, 17)

The first day in a new place, I walk for hours to build a sense of belonging.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Home. I’m ready. I miss Mike, my family and friends, and speaking English. I miss the not so mighty dollar and bagels. God, I miss bagels. I miss coffee to go and doggie bags. I miss wide highways and big kitchens. I miss football and Project Runway. I miss running. This is the longest I have ever gone without running. I miss skiing, although I hear the snow sucks. I miss men that can understand my words, if not their meaning. I miss my seemingly limitless underwear collection. (This sounds sexy, but it’s only because I never throw out old pairs.) I miss the majestic beauty that is Colorado with big, wide open spaces and lots of fleece. I’m embarrassed but I’m just going to say it. I miss Starbucks. I miss working and thinking about something other than myself. I’m bored with that topic. It’s time. I’m coming home.

Friday, January 29, 2010

It was a four pizza weekend...

I spent my last two days searching for more gifts, drinking coffee, and eating pizza. I arrived in Rome on Saturday night and left Tuesday morning and ate a total of 4 pizzas. My final meal was a plate of cured meat and cheeses with two glasses of Barolo at Roscioli by Campo de Fiore. Yum. I have missed the warmth of Italy, the food, the people, the weather. I went sightseeing on Monday, visiting Campo de Fiore, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Forum, and the Colosseum. The highlight was a cappuccino I had a couple of blocks from the Colosseum. Definitely the best cappuccino I’ve ever had. Ever. I ducked into a little café before lunch to avoid the rain and warm up. It was a little cold so I kept my coat on. After 15 minutes with no contact, I was thinking about leaving, never a good sign, but the coffee was perfection. Strong, but not bitter with a touch of silky milk and tons of thick, rich foam, it warmed my body and soul. My biggest regret is that I didn’t get the name of the place so I may never have another cup. I guess the bright side is that I can wax poetic about the coffee without having to back it up.

The cappuccino experience was followed closely by my visit to San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane designed by Borromini. It’s actually one of my favorite buildings from Architecture school, along with the Tempietto, which I visited in September. Check, and check. I highly recommend the Tempietto. It’s in Trastevere, a great neighborhood, in some sort of convent or monastery. Steep stone steps lead to the top of the hill. The building sits in the courtyard of another building, the cloister I think. It’s like a Tiffany blue box sitting among a pile of other Christmas presents. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane was in a relatively remote location and might only be appreciated by architecture freaks, but its undulating façade was beautiful. It was grace in the middle of drab nowhere, which is always exciting to me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Woman with baggage available

I don’t know if you have been able to discern this from my previous postings, but travelling by myself with two suitcases totally stresses me out. I think transfering the luggage responsibility is the best reason I’ve heard to get remarried. I’m totally serious. That and changing my oil. I’m not just out for myself; my future husband won’t have to clean the kitchen or grocery shop. That seems fair.

I start to get nervous about my luggage days before I leave, especially in Europe because a lot of public transportation and walking is involved. I worry about the weight of my bag. I miss the days when I could pack as much as I could stuff into my suitcase without breaking the zipper. Now I lug my suitcase to the scale, remove a few scarves, a couple t-shirts, a pair of shoes. It’s the shoes that hurt the most. For this trip, I removed everything that wasn’t black, yellow, or purple. For those of you who know me, you know this made for a strange wardrobe. As if travelling with two bags isn’t enough, now I also have to deal with the guilt of additional baggage fees as well.

I can handle having my wallet stolen, getting lost, not having a place to sleep for the night, and getting food poisoning, but my luggage is torture. I know there is an easy solution to this problem. Pack light. One travel blog even recommends packing clothes that you plan to give to Goodwill. That way you can just donate the clothes while in Europe, no need to bring them home. (No, it wasn’t Rick Steves, but good guess.) Ugh. These suggestions are so fucking depressing. I’m going to Europe and I’m going to wear crappy old clothes that I hate? It is this sort of mentality that gives Americans a bad name. No. I want to look and feel good so if there is any man out there that hates grocery shopping, give me a ring.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Like I don't have enough hang ups with weight, now my luggage is too fat?

I made it to Rome and the journey was as difficult as expected. Air travel between European countries is a bitch. They have a thing with the weight of luggage. I thoroughly researched the airlines that offered a Paris to Rome flight, and chose Vueling because they were the cheapest (40 euro + 20 for luggage) and they allowed 23kg/bag with a maximum single person luggage weight of 50kg. After shipping 3 boxes home, I was sure that I would be under the limit. The journey began with a taxi to Orly airport, where the cabby asked, “what terminal?” I have no idea. Aren’t there signs for airlines at the airport? No. OK. I find the confirmation email and there is no terminal listed for Orly. Luckily, the cabby has a list of flights, times, and terminals. According to his list, my airline only flies out of Fiumicino (the main airport). But I show him the confirmation email and he grudgingly admits that I might not be an idiot. Based on “the list”, all flights to Rome on any airline are out of the west terminal. Great, let’s go there. He drops me off with my two carefully packed, extremely heavy suitcases and I wonder the terminal, which has an alarming lack of signage. I finally find an information booth where a lovely woman points me to Hall 1 (of four). OK.

There is one line in Hall 1 and it is long. Of course, it’s for Vueling Airlines. I take my spot at the end of the line and wait. Parisians, like Italians, have no respect for the line and I am ditched frequently. When you don’t speak the language, you pretty much have to take it. The line is going nowhere, and I don’t mean that in a poetic kind of way. It wasn’t moving. After 30 minutes, I discover that the line is for the Barcelona flight which has opened check in. In Europe, you can’t check in too early. For Vueling, that’s 2 ½ hours. I go to the correct line for Orly which is blissfully short. Once at the desk, I put my two bags on the scale and hold my breath. The charming Vueling employee informs me that the maximum weight for baggage per person is 23kg. Anything above 23kg will incur a charge of 10 euro per kg. I have about 20kg more than 23kg. This is not good. He suggests that I carry on my small bag, which is bending the rules because it too big and too heavy, but I’m not going to mention it. The problem is that I have packed the small bag with all my toiletries. I was planning to store my big suitcase at the airport and just bring the small one to my hotel. He also said I had to transfer 3kg from the small bag to the big bag for some inexplicable reason so I stepped out of line to transfer all sorts of personal items from one suitcase to another. I won’t go into the details, but was embarrassing and exhausting. I was sweating and cursing (so American). Plus, I really have no idea how much personal stuff constitutes 3kg. After 15 minutes of humiliation, I returned to the desk. I had overestimated the 3kg and now my bag was too heavy. He obviously felt sorry for me because he let it slide and I’m off to Gate 10. It is directly behind the check in desk so this should be smooth sailing.

Well Gate 10 is made up of Gates A-P. OK. I look on my boarding pass, it only says Gate 10. OK. I go to the monitor, only Gate 10. OK. I check the monitor at each gate looking for Vueling. No Vueling. OK. I decide to chill out for a while to see if it becomes clear later. Nothing. This is starting to remind me of a painfully long chartered flight from Mexico. We are supposed to boarding by now. I find the Vueling information desk and ask the attendant. She looks at me with the “poor thing, it must be difficult to be that stupid” look and points to Gate N. OK. A line has formed for no apparent reason. The plane isn’t even there yet. However, I have found that when in a foreign country, it is best to just do what everyone else is doing so I stand in line. About 5 groups of people ditch me. OK. Finally, I’m on the plane, on my way to Rome. I’m so excited for pizza I can barely stand it. I get to Rome and decide to take a taxi. I just don’t want to deal with my luggage and I’m already late for check in at my apartment. The cabby is ancient and has a serious case of the shakes. He can’t lift my suitcase into the car by himself. Again with the weight issue. I put in the trunk and get into the cab. He asks where I’m going, but can’t understand me. Finally, I show him the address on my phone. OK. He turns off the meter and says “40 euro”. Then, he has the nerve to charge me for the baggage. I’m too tired to fight. We get to Trastevere, and Stefano is waiting. Perfect. I shower and get some pizza with salami picante. I love Italy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I love the experience of space. It’s where I find religion. I see God in the way the light hits the Rockies on a clear day. The Rodin Gardens feel like heaven’s antechamber and Stonehenge, while not beautiful, gives me a sense connection to past civilizations. It can be man-made or natural, old or new, but certain spaces have a quality that inspires joy, hope, reflection, and sometimes even despair. Space can be magical to me and Paris is filled with magic spaces. I know it’s not perfect, but the air is charged with grandeur and beauty. If you can, you must go.

Thank you, I love it!

I spent my last week in Paris shopping for gifts, reading and writing at the cafes and wandering the streets. I love to shop, but only for myself. I know this sounds really selfish, and it is, but shopping for other people stresses me out. I belong to a family that would rather strut down Main St in a metallic gold, puff painted Christmas sweatshirt than suggest returning it. This unwritten rule sucks for everyone as we all get, and give, crappy gifts once in a while but that’s the way it is. I envy those families that honestly and without malice tell family members that they hate their gift. My Midwestern upbringing makes that as likely as staying sober for Christmas dinner. I’m still blaming the divorce for the drinking. I figure I’ve got another two years before I have to find a new devastating life experience to drive me to the bottom of a nice Chianti. I’m sure something will come up.

So with my puff painted sweatshirt stuffed into the back of my closet only to come out when family members visit, I struggle to find a decent gift for everyone. You would think this would be simple. I’m in Paris after all, but I’m easily influenced by my environment, and what’s cool in Paris is not cool in Colorado. Trust me. I spent days browsing for the perfect object, a physical manifestation of my deep understanding and love for each family member. To be fair, the recipients are especially difficult. My nephews are teenage boys now and would much rather have money, and I'm happy to oblige, but this year I feel I have to get something tangible from Paris for them. Finding the right gift for my brother is virtually impossible and my boyfriend is VERY picky. So I shop and shop. I found the perfect gift for my mother, but decided to wait to make sure. I have to actually leave the store for at least 30 minutes to know if I really like something. Telling, isn't it? The next day, I return to buy the gift, but can’t find the gallery. I tried three more times with no luck. It must be God telling me that Mom doesn’t want an ink drawing of a nude woman painted on cardboard. Fine. It is with this stress and a few tears that I purchase all the goodies.

As if the exchange rate isn’t enough of an insult, I have to ship everything home because of the weight restrictions on trans-European Union airlines. You simply cannot bring more than 50 kg on the plane, no matter how much you are willing to pay, and anything over 23 kg is 10€/kg. Fine. I spend two days purchasing and packing the boxes only to unpack them at Le Poste because they are over the weight restriction. There is nothing like spreading your personal belongings all over the post office counter to really make you want to go home.

But the café crèmes were fantastic, the wine was sublime, and the walks were wildly romantic despite my solitary existence. I returned to the Louvre, the Rodin, Notre Dame, Pompidou, Luxemburg Gardens, and many other favorite spots. Paris really is beautiful. On my last day, I finally visited the Eiffel Tower where I climbed to the 2nd floor and enjoyed the 360° view of the city. My trip was complete.